MADRID, Oct 13 (Reuters) World number two Rafael Nadal is aiming to use next week's Madrid Masters tournament to reignite his season ready for an end-of-year flourish at the Masters Cup in Shanghai.
The 21-year-old has not played competitively since losing to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in the last 16 of the US Open on September. 4, deciding to take time off to recover from a bout of tendinitis in his left knee.
Although he has not won a tournament since July, Nadal is hoping to recapture his early season form on his return to action in front of the partisan fans in the Spanish capital.
''I've done all I can to ensure I'm in top shape but I've had a month and a half when I haven't been able to do anything and it is here in Madrid where I will be able to see whether or not I'm in condition to compete at 100 percent,'' Nadal told reporters this week after a training session at the Madrid Arena.
''I felt pretty good and had no pain. I will be training the hardest since I played in US Open.'' But Nadal, who got the better of Croatian Ivan Ljubicic in an epic struggle to win in Madrid two years ago, will have a difficult task on his hands if he is to become the first man to take the title on two occasions.
DEFENDING CHAMPION World number one Roger Federer will be defending the title he won last year when he crushed Fernando Gonzalez in the final, while an ever-improving Novak Djokovic will be out to add a third Masters crown to the ones he won in Miami and Montreal earlier this year.
Like Nadal, Federer has not competed in a tournament since winning his third grand slam of the year and 12th of his career at the US Open last month, but he did play for Switzerland in the Davis Cup in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent them dropping out of the World Group.
Although he unsurprisingly pointed to Federer as the man to beat, Nadal said he expected the tournament to more open than ever.
''The favourite is the same as always, it's the world number one,'' the Mallorcan said. ''But Djokovic will be coming in with a lot of confidence and I think this tournament will be very open.'' Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, who have mopped up all of this year's seven Masters trophies between them, have already secured their places in Shanghai.
But with five places at the end-of-season jamboree still up for grabs there will be an added incentive for the rest of the field to upset the favourites.
REUTERS TB RK1708